Detroit Lions' backup QB situation may be the worst in the NFL: Here are their options

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
View Comments

When the Detroit Lions passed on quarterbacks in April's NFL draft, Tom Savage seemed destined to be Matthew Stafford's backup.

Sure, there were other candidates. Connor Cook spent a few months in Detroit in the spring. The Lions signed David Fales, however, once they realized the Cook experiment was a flop.

But Savage was always the favorite, due both to his experience as a starter and his history with quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan.

Now, though, with Savage still in concussion protocol 12 days after suffering the third brain injury of his NFL career and the trim deadline for the 53-man roster less than two weeks away, the backup quarterback situation seems as murky as a Louisiana swamp.

Matthew Stafford: Back isn't keeping me out, 'I feel good' ]

Savage missed his seventh straight practice Tuesday, leaving Fales and Josh Johnson, whom the Lions signed to a one-year deal Aug. 10, to take backup reps.

David Fales and Tom Savage watch as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford runs the offense during practice during training camp on Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Allen Park.

Fales played his best football of the preseason in the second half of last week's loss to the Houston Texans, going 12 of 19 for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson wasn't nearly as sharp, completing just 9 of 18 passes for 85 yards, but he earned praise from Lions coach Matt Patricia for his handling of the offense just six days after he signed.

"He’s just getting here and he’s trying to do everything he can to learn," Patricia said after the game. "So I thought it was great competition for those guys and that’s really what we needed."

The Lions' unsettled backup situation, arguably the NFL's worst, is perhaps a reason why they've been reluctant to play Stafford this preseason, both for fear of something happening to their only trusted quarterback and as a way to better assess what they do have.

More:Here's why the newest Lions quarterback has lasted 12 seasons

Detroit Lions QB Josh Johnson looks to pass vs. the Texans in the first quarter at NRG Stadium on Aug. 17, 2019 in Houston.

The Lions are unlikely to carry three quarterbacks in the regular season, and Patricia was noncommittal Tuesday when asked if Stafford would play in the third preseason game Friday against the Buffalo Bills.

Savage, Fales and Johnson are all considered bottom-tier backups, and none is the type the Lions need to sit on for fear of another team snapping him up if released.

That doesn't mean Savage, Fales or Johnson can't be an asset to the Lions this fall. Savage and Johnson, in particular, are seasoned veterans whose familiarity with Ryan would provide at least a measure of short-term security if Stafford goes down.

But in all likelihood, those three are competing for one roster spot that will be determined  in the next two preseason games. And that could be bad news for Savage, the former front-runner for the job who probably needs to be medically cleared by next Saturday to make the 53-man roster, and even then would have to beat out the other two to overcome any medical concerns the Lions may have.

Detroit Lions quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by New England Patriots linebacker Shilique Calhoun during the first half Thursday, August 8, 2019 at Ford Field.

Patricia said earlier this month that he wants his backup to be a cerebral player who can help with game preparation and be ready to go on a moment's notice.

"Right now for us, we’re far away from the game mode standpoint, we’re just in the evaluation mode," Patricia said. "And I think [Fales and Johnson] are the same as everybody else. They’re trying to improve their reads, improve their command of the offense, make sure they do a good job with their throws and the timing of the routes, and the overall production on the field. From there, we’ll handle the rest of it.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

View Comments